While finishing up some shopping, I witnessed food court employees desperately trying to persuade customers to dine at their competing restaurants. It reminded me of what it feels like to compete for my students’ attention and interests. I know that if my students do not have a genuine interest in what they’re learning, the learning will most likely be shallow and perhaps quickly forgotten.
Through trial and error, and with input from my peers, I have been able to develop a captivating classroom environment that – much to my delight – has my students excited to come back instead of anxiously waiting to leave.
The following tips have proven to snooze-proof my classroom, even on the very last few days of school, and I am thrilled to share them with you. As an educator, I know that each lesson I give is also a learning opportunity for me, so I would love to hear about some of the things that have worked for you.
If you are really serious about getting (and keeping!) your students’ attention, you have to change their perceptions of a “typical” classroom. Creating out-of-the-box lessons that still meet the Florida Standards is much more effective at piquing your students’ interests than having them complete problems from a textbook.
Consider these ideas:
- Create a real-world scenario or mystery that students need to explore and solve.
- Give students the freedom to discover different strategies for solving problems.
- Place a different word problem at different corners of the room and have teams rotate to solve each problem. What’s the catch? Teams must solve the problem using a different method than the teams that have solved it before them!
- Need smaller steps? Take a math problem from the textbook and get rid of the numbers! See how many different solutions teams can come up with.
I was recently told a story from a retired man who, when he was in middle school, spent all night trying to solve one of his math homework problems. The next day in class, he stretched and waved his hand in the air with great pride so he could solve the problem on the board in front of his classmates. After successfully completing the problem, he turned to his teacher and asked, “But why do I need to know how to do this?” Without pause, his teacher replied, “Because I said so.”
With one matter-of-fact phrase, the captivating allure of problem solving lost its luster. He vowed to become a teacher who would make it a priority to tell his students why they needed to put effort into their education.
Be prepared to help your students solve for why. Give them a reason to show up to class. Make learning real to them by making it something that can prove to be useful and beneficial in their own lives.
We all understand the challenges actual field trips place on our lessons. But what if some of those challenges could be removed and places all over the world could be your lesson’s destination?
Virtual field trips allow students to get a 360-degree view of locations across the globe. You can use these breathtaking views to spark class discussion while creating a real-world background for your lessons.
Who says lessons have to be taught within the four walls of a classroom? Take advantage of great weather and find a place around campus that would serve as a much-needed change in venue.
Start by asking yourself, “Is the classroom the best place to have this lesson?” Perhaps watching how students engage in a game of kickball at P.E. would serve as a better environment during a measurement lesson. Maybe using a small space in the media center could create a better atmosphere for your graphing lesson. Consider the entire campus your classroom and watch how excited your students will become about engaging in learning!
A teacher who spends less time talking does not necessarily do less teaching. The powerhouse of learning is found in the conversations our students have with one another. Many teachers who have mastered the concept of student engagement attribute their success to providing constant opportunities for students to discuss their findings, debate their opinions, and explain their reasoning.
I would not be able to teach if my classroom was quiet all day without discussions, collaborative group work, debates, and conversations about learning.
Math is everywhere! Watching a football game, playing with sticky notes, touring the aquarium, buying Christmas trees – the opportunities are endless. Whenever you are outside of the classroom, stay vigilant for opportunities to bring the real world into your classroom.
- What are some scenarios that could use some math skills?
- How could you expand on your students’ understanding of a math concept through a real-world experience you encountered on the weekend?
- How could you use this experience to introduce a new concept?
- What’s a scenario you could share with parents so they can reinforce math concepts at home?
Terri Samson, 2016 Florida School for the Deaf and Blind Teacher of the Year, says bringing props and artifacts into the classroom has helped capture her students’ interest.
Hands-on visual aids make everything more fun, and it hooks even my reluctant readers.
It’s easy to lose ourselves in tunnel vision tendencies of teaching our students to master the standards. We want them to be successful, which isn’t a bad thing. But, it can cause us to sometimes pass up the chance to make personal connections with our students. These connections will later create trust when we ask our students to step out of their comfort zones and persevere through challenging problems.
Crissy Bass, 2016 Nassau County Teacher of the Year, understands the power of making personal connections with her students:
I recently had a student convince her parent to bring her back to school because I forgot to do our “high five, handshake, or hug” when leaving. She said it was too important to wait until tomorrow. That made me smile!
What may have originally seemed like a quick exit routine transformed into a treasured practice that clearly has lasting effects on her students.
Rather than starting a lesson with, “Today we are going to learn about area,” try showing your students an interesting picture or video. Let your students take a few minutes to get lost in the picture and think aloud some wonder statements.
I wonder how many fish could fit in that aquarium’s tank.
I wonder how long it took to build that skyscraper.
I wonder how many sticky notes it would take to cover that entire file cabinet.
You can still teach about area, or any other number of concepts, but allowing your students to ask questions and create wonder statements lets them take ownership over their learning. Use a wonder statement to drive the lesson, giving your students a mission to complete while unknowingly acquiring new math skills.